April 11, 2023
by Carla Hay
Directed by Chris McKay
Culture Representation: Taking place in New Orleans, the horror comedy film “Renfield” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Asians, African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class, middle-class and criminal underground.
Culture Clash: A real-estate attorney, who has been forced to become an indentured servant procuring victims for vampire Count Dracula, finds himself involved in various hijinks with Dracula and a drug-smuggling gang.
Culture Audience: “Renfield” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Nicolas Cage and over-the-top comedies about vampires.
Nicolas Cage’s campy performance as Dracula is the best thing about “Renfield,” a horror comedy that sometimes gets a little too one-note and manic for its own good. The movie doesn’t take itself seriously, and neither should viewers. It’s not a movie for anyone who’s overly sensitive to graphic violence on screen, because there’s plenty of blood and gore, in case anyone forgot that “Renfield” is a vampire movie.
Directed by Chris McKay and written by Ryan Ridley, “Renfield” has a very simple concept that frequently gets muddled with the movie’s overreach in trying to do too much action and comedy at once. “Renfield” is supposed to be a satire of support-group culture and how therapy of co-dependence could be applied to someone who is a “familiar” (a servant of a vampire) trying to get out of a toxic relationship with a blood-sucking employer. However, there are subplots that get tangled in the mix that could have been presented in a more straightforward way.
In “Renfield,” Robert Montague Renfield (played by Nicholas Hoult) is a native of Great Britain who is living in the United States and working as a real-estate attorney. That’s how he met Dracula (played by Cage), who forced Renfield (a bachelor with no children) to become Dracula’s familiar. Renfield is tasked with finding murder victims for Dracula and cleaning up Dracula’s messes.
Dracula and Renfield move from city to city to avoid getting caught. In the beginning of “Renfield” (which has frequent narration by Renfield), Dracula and Renfield have settled in New Orleans. Most of “Renfield” is about a madcap feud involving Dracula, Renfield, mobster criminals and police. A drug-smuggling cartel, led by Bellafrancesca Lobo (played by Shohreh Aghdashloo, doing her best Mafia queen impersonation) ends up blaming Renfield for a stolen supply of drugs worth millions.
Meanwhile, Renfield attends a support group for people who are in unhealthy co-dependent relationships. The scenes with the support group meetings are hit and miss. A running gag that gets old quickly is that Renfield shows up and interrupts the meetings at very inconvenient times, usually when someone is in the middle of sharing their emotional pain with the group.
Also hit and miss is the subplot about budding romance between Renfield and a wisecracking New Orleans police officer named Rebecca Quincy (played by Awkwafina), who is trying to prove herself as worthy of her police badge, because her deceased father was a New Orleans police captain who was a well-respected local legend. Rebecca’s serious-minded sister Kate (played by Camille Chen) is an agent for the FBI. Rebecca and Kate have a sibling rivalry that is clumsily shoehorned into the story and is ultimately not essential to the overall plot.
Rebecca and Kate are the only ones who are living in a parent’s shadow. Bellafrancesca has made her bungling son Tedward “Teddy” Lobo (played by Ben Schwartz) her second-in-command. And he’s desperate to impress his mother, but he often fails miserably, because he’s such a buffoon. You can easily predict who will be in the movie’s biggest showdown toward the end.
Character development is not the strong point of “Renfield.” The main characters don’t have much depth, while the supporting characters aren’t too interesting and just exist in the movie to react to the antics or give a few unremarkable quips. Rebecca’s police supervisor Chris Marcos (played by Adrian Martinez) could have been a hilarious character, but he doesn’t get enough screen time to have an impact. The leader of the support group is a sensitive counselor named Mark (played by Brandon Scott Jones), who is written and portrayed as a character to be ridiculed for being a counselor who is immersed in political correctness.
There aren’t very many surprises in “Renfield,” but the movie can deliver some laughs for people who might like this type of entertainment. Hoult plays the “straight man” to Cage’s wacky Dracula. The movie has some dull reptition, but the overall pace of the movie is energetic. Renfield is a mixture of neurotic and empathetic, and Hoult is perfectly fine in this role, but the filmmakers made the mistake of naming the movie after this character. The real star of the show is unquestionably Dracula.
Universal Pictures will release “Renfield” in U.S. cinemas on April 14, 2023.